Cannabis Breathalyzer Test Possible with New Technology

Cannabis Breathalyzer Test Possible with New Technology

Compared to testing alcohol, checking for traces of cannabis compounds is exponentially more complicated. In the race to build a quick and reliable cannabis breathalyzer, scientists are looking to cutting-edge technologies in the fields of analytical chemistry and bomb detection.

Read on to understand how such new developments are influencing roadside testing methods for cannabis.

PLOT-cryo

plot-cryo-cannabis-breathalyzerAn instrument to sample vapor inside an old paint can, using  PLOT-cryo  (NIST photo)

 

A ground-breaking study, published by researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), recommends using a unique testing method that leverages porous layer open tubular cryogenic (PLOT-cyro) absorption. PLOT-cyro was established in 2009 by Tom Bruno, a NIST chemist; which at the time was designed for detecting explosive substances and compounds at busy airports. Today, it is being utilized to support evidence for cases of arson.

Bruno believes PLOT-cryo could revolutionize cannabis testing by creating a foundation for standardization.

In cannabis detection, PLOT-cryo is capable of detecting THC on a molecular level. Unlike ethyl alcohol, THC compounds are difficult to measure because they possess very low vapor pressure. By comparison, high vapor pressure molecules are considerably lighter and escape more easily, making them easy to detect. Hence, traditional methods of roadside testing are not effective for cannabis. PLOT-cyro works by trapping THC compounds and analyzing the sample in the vapor phase.

“Vapor pressure describes how a compound behaves when it transitions from a liquid to a gas,” explained Tara Lovestead, a NIST chemical engineer and the lead author of the study, in a statement.

“That’s what happens in your lungs when a molecule leaves the blood to be exhaled in your breath. So if you want to accurately measure blood levels based on breath, you need to know the vapor pressure.”

Other scientists, from UC Berkeley and the University of Florida, are looking to ion mass spectrometry to improve success rates of cannabis breathalyzers. This method relies on filtering cannabis compounds using active particles. The process is very accurate, as it could tell researchers if the subject has consumed cannabis within a window of a few hours. However, it doesn’t provide data surrounding the amount of THC present in the subject’s bloodstream.

Classic Sobriety Test

plot-cryo-cannabis-breathalyzer

The main issue with applying the same framework for alcohol testing is that both substances (alcohol and cannabis) differ greatly. An individual with high tolerance to cannabis could still function reliably after consuming large amounts; while a person with low tolerance may not be able to perform basic tasks, like driving, after a small dose. Because of this, using a breathalyzer device as a medium for cannabis detection may not generate accurate results.

“What matters is not the THC,” said Daniele Piomelli, a professor at the UC Irvine School of Medicine and an expert on cannabis. “What matters is if you are intoxicated.”

Piomelli suggests enforcing the classic behavioral field sobriety test as the main tool for detecting cannabis intoxication.

“There is understandably a strong desire by both lawmakers and the public to create legal limits for marijuana impairment in the same manner we do alcohol,” said Marshall Doney, AAA’s president and CEO. “In the case of marijuana, this approach is flawed and not supported by scientific research.”

 

 

The Marijuana Breathalyzer is Silicon Valley’s Next Big Investment

The Marijuana Breathalyzer is Silicon Valley’s Next Big Investment

Hound Labs, the startup founded by venture capitalist Mike Lynn, has just received a huge investment by Benchmark, one of Silicon Valley’s largest venture capital firms.

The startup is focusing on the marijuana breathalyzer, a device that would theoretically be able to determine if someone has recently consumed cannabis. The inspiration for Lynn’s creation came from witnessing drivers under the influence of cannabis, but also the current methods for drug testing by employers looking for stoned workers. Typically, those tests will show if a person has used cannabis within the past 30 days. “The paradigm needs to change,” said Lynn. “Why should you be checking what someone did on the weekend?”

Lynn’s device is called the Hound, and it measures the amount of THC in a person’s breath. This test is meant to detect usage during the previous few hours, which is what particularly interests law enforcement when looking for drivers under the influence of cannabis. The company began field trials last fall, and by all accounts were promising.

marijuana-breathalyzer-hound-labs

(Photo: Hound Labs)

But what the Hound cannot do is determine whether a driver is truly impaired. The science behind legal limits for cannabis is lacking, partially due to federal drug laws that prohibit the necessary research. It took decades to be able to determine a legal limit for alcohol, develop a roadside test for alcohol intoxication, and form legislation around that data. While some states have an established legal limit, that figure is not based in any solid research. Law enforcement have been using subjective field sobriety tests, which are proven to be inaccurate. “As far as having something that really works, defense and prosecutors can agree—the science is not there yet.” said Nick Morrow, a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff deputy who specializes in drug symptomatology and teaches drug recognition classes.

Even more nebulous is the concept of tolerance. A medical marijuana patient who uses cannabis daily will have a much higher tolerance than a first-time user. THC also affects individuals more specifically than alcohol. The intensity and the length of intoxication varies based on height, weight, diet, metabolism, and other variables specific to each user. “It’s simply not possible today to determine whether a driver is impaired based solely on the amount of the drug in their body,” said American Automobile Association’s Marshall Doney in a 2016 study.

But the demand for an instant, reliable test is propelling Hound Labs to refine their product. After an initial $6 million from individual investors, Benchmark has facilitated another $8.1 million. Lynn, a trained emergency room physician and reserve police officer, has secured relationships with San Francisco General Hospital and Alameda County Sheriff’s Office to conduct field trials and supervise research. The Hound was expected to go on sale within the first six months of 2017, but now appears to be targeted towards the end of the year.

While marijuana legalization has accelerated over the past five years, there is a concern by law enforcement to tackle impaired driving. But if inaccurate methods are being used that ultimately prove false, innocent drivers will pay the price. “There is understandably a strong desire by both lawmakers and the public to create legal limits for marijuana impairment, in the same manner as we do with alcohol,” said Doney. “In the case of marijuana, this approach is flawed and not supported by scientific research.”

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']